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The Hunt for Better Brain Injury Scans

St. Louis Today published a helpful story this week that emphasizes the challenges still faced by medical providers trying to develop foolproof ways to find the actual damage caused by traumatic brain injuries. As each Illinois brain injury lawyer at our firm has repeatedly explained, before treatment can be provided to help those injured, we must first be able to identify that there is an injury and the specifics of how the brain is harmed. Getting over that first hurdle continues to prove challenging in many ways.

The story notes that in all contexts-from battlefield wounds to football collisions-there is no clear way to diagnose a TBI. However, one new approach that is getting some attention involves use of a tool that scans the brain and essentially “lights up” the portions of it which have been damaged. Those promoting the efforts compare it to how an x-ray shows a broken bone. If consistently reliable, this sort of test may prove invaluable down the road. The scan is a new MRI-based test that is just now being properly evaluated to test its effectiveness. The research is still brand new and so it is not possible to make clear pronouncements about whether or not this method will prove effective.

The lead developer of the new scanning method summarizes by noting, “We now have, for the first time, the ability to make visible these previously invisible wounds. If you cannot see or quantify the damage, it is hard to treat it.”

Working with many clients who have suffered traumatic brain injuries, our brain injury attorneys appreciate the immense frustration that comes with having an often-debilitating injury that seems invisible. The frustration is shared by those hurt, their families, and even doctors provided them care. Some TBIs-such as those experienced in auto accidents or following serious falls-lead to extreme disability. However, others that are less serious have symptoms that are very difficult to pinpoint, like memory loss, mood changes, and other subtle problems.

In addition, sometimes a certain brain injury will not lead to any visible signs but will still increase the likelihood of severe damage or other neurological problems down the road. These often prove the most risky, because the initial injuries often go untreated for lack of symptoms. This is the issue facing those in certain sports, like football, who may suffer repeat concussions over a period of years.

Experts hope this new scan might change that by allowing professionals to determine clearly and more conclusively whether damage has accrued. Right now, standard scans only see bleeding and swelling-not broken or damage nerves and cells seen in brain injuries. The new scan, known as a “high-definition fiber tracking,” includes a special computer program that maps fiber tracts and colors them, allowing breaks within those tracks to be readily seen. These “breaks” may stop the nerve connections from doing what they are suppose to-which leads to brain injury symptoms. A previous computer program tried to do the same thing, but it did not provide clear enough results to be helpful. On the contrary this new scanning version may prove much more helpful. One research explained that “it’s like comparing your fuzzy screen black and white TV with a high-definition TV.”

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